I'm pretty sure many of you did a double-take when you read my post title above. *What could she have been thinking?* No, I haven't completely lost my mind because this is the way I always think, especially when there is a cooking challenge involved. Our regular, monthly 5-Star Makeover Challenge hosted by the dynamic Lazaro and Natasha has been taken over by a special 5-Star Restaurant Wars Challenge, starting now!
How it works is that members of this online cooking group are divided into teams and each team would come up with their own restaurant name and thematic key ingredients for their dishes or choose to feature a regional cuisine. The teams have all pushed their creativity to the limit, starting with their restaurant names, names such The Pink Goat, Le Morel, Marishky, Ciao Fiore! and Raphanus.
I am teamed with the fearlessly-talented Trix and Jessica and together we are pleased to welcome you to our sunny, little restaurant: Voodoo!
As the name probably leads you to conclude, the type of cuisine we have chosen to feature is from Louisiana. It was a natural and easy choice because Jessica is the author of Cajunlicious, a gorgeous cookbook featuring all-Cajun recipes while Trix had gotten married in New Orleans (by a Voodoo Priestess, no less) and is majorly enamored of the place, its people and cuisine. So how do I fit into all this? Well, I'm Asian and there is an unusual twist to Louisianan cuisine in that in recent times, Vietnamese food and culture have started to hold sway over its menus, alongside the historical influences of the French, Spanish, English, Native Americans and African Cultures. If you've ever had Cajun-Vietnamese fusion dishes such as the delicious Cajun lemon-grass chicken, garlic shrimp noodles and crawfish eggrolls, you'll get where I'm coming from.
We have divided the task of producing the restaurant courses into three, with Jessica kicking off the above menu with her beautiful and refreshing appetizer using Creole tomatoes and Trix making her delicious, bad-ass main course (with a name I don't even know how to pronounce properly!).
Dessert fell into my very willing hands. I knew a lot about Vietnamese desserts and flavors but very little about Cajun desserts. After consulting my two knowledgable team mates, I decided to put my own spin on the famed New Orleans Praline Cookies and Creole Cream Cheese dessert. I couldn't produce my own Creole cream cheese but I can certainly make those praline cookies and some Asian-flavored ice creams, and that was how my cookie-encased Vietnamese mint and lemongrass ice creams came about. And since chili is used profusely in both Cajun and Vietnamese food, what better than to serve that up in the form of a beautiful parcel of chocolate truffle?
The two most used herbs and flavorings in Vietnamese dishes are easily lemongrass and Vietnamese mint. Vietnamese mint is native to Southeast Asia and is also known as hot mint, laksa leaf, rau ram, Cambodian mint and Vietnamese coriander. It's not related to the mint group of herbs though, but is more closely related to buckwheat and rhubarb. It's a key ingredient for cooking laksa, as it provides the typical sweet fragrance to the spicy noodle dish. In Vietnamese cuisine, it is often served raw and as a salad (as with Pho). Flavor-wise the herb is strongly pungent, with powerful citrus and pepper overtones. The lemongrass and Vietnamese mint together added a fresh flavor and depth to this iced dessert, with their subversive savory elements working really well to lift the sweetness.
Vietnamese mint and lemongrass from my garden
At Voodoo, we have attempted to represent the long and colorful history of Southern Louisiana through each of our dishes. The appetizer represents the cuisine as an integrated whole; the main course pays homage to African and Caribbean influences; and the dessert, containing Vietnamese flavors and ingredients, tells the story of an evolution in Creole cuisine. Since history is an ongoing phenomenon, you know it wouldn't just end here. If I choose to relocate to Louisiana someday, you would surely see my stamp on the food there too. :)
We hope you've enjoyed your 5-star dining experience at Voodoo. If you're someone who eats dessert first, remember to check out the other two fabulous courses by my fellow Culinary Priestesses here and here!
The round-up of the 5-Star Restaurant Wars restaurants and dishes can be found here.
Vietnamese Mint and Lemongrass Ice Creams in Praline Cookies, with Chocolate Chili Truffles
Lemongrass Ice Cream
4 lemongrass stalks
1 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup caster sugar
2 egg yolks
1. Cut the lemongrass stalks in half lengthwise (use only the white part in the middle, 4-6cm from the base) and bruise them with a rolling pin. Place in a saucepan, add the cream and coconut milk and bring to just below boiling point. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about half an hour. Strain to remove the lemongrass.
2. Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl with the cornstarch until pale. Gradually add the cream mixture, whisking constantly.
3. Return mixture to the saucepan and heat gently, stirring until the custard thickens. Remove from the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.
4. Churn custard in an ice cream machine until thick (about 15-20 minutes). Pour into a flat-bottomed container and press down top with the back of a spoon to flatten. You need the ice cream to be about ½ inch thick.
Vietnamese Mint Ice Cream
1 cup chopped Vietnamese mint leaves
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
Follow the same method as for the lemongrass ice cream above, but add the black sesame seeds at the end of the churning process and before freezing completely.
Almond Praline Cookies
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1. In a medium bowl, mix together butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla.
2. Gradually add flour and gently stir in almonds. Optional: Refrigerate dough for about 1 hour to make it easier to handle.
3. Preheat oven to 180C/375F. Roll dough out thinly, about 1/8 inch thick on a cookie tray lined with silpat or parchment paper. Slice into even rectangles using a pizza cutter and bake just until the edges begin to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Cool on a rack and store in an airtight container until ready to use.
Chocolate Chili Truffles
170g/6oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons butter, softened and diced
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 tsp Thai chilli powder (very hot!)
100g/3.5oz extra chocolate, melted and cooled
1. Combine chocolate and butter in a bowl.
2. Microwave cream on high heat for about 1 minute until bubbly. Pour over chocolate bowl and mix until smooth. Stir in the chili powder and leave to cool to room temperature. Cover and chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight until ganache is set.
3. Working quickly, scoop a teaspoon of ganache and roll in between your palms to form a small ball. Make several of these, place on a lined plate and return to the fridge to chill and harden again (about 30 minutes). 4. Spoon melted, cooled chocolate into flexible silicon molds. Gently place a truffle ball into the middle of the mold and top with more melted chocolate. Let the outer chocolate coat harden completely before turning out. Use immediately.
1. Slice the two ice creams into rectangular slabs slightly smaller than the dimension of the praline cookies.
2. Work quickly and stack the ice cream and cookie layers in this order: cookie-lemongrass-cookie-Vietnamese mint-cookie-lemongrass-cookie. Turn the whole stack on its side so it’s standing upright and serve immediately with the chocolate chili truffles. Enjoy!